Sunday, 14 July 2013

Common Creativity: Understanding the Rules and Rights Around "Free" Images on the Web

The proper protocols to deal with infringement of authored images and content online has become a minefield of misinformation, some of which can land webmasters in big trouble with copyright law. 

Protect yourself by understanding what's at stake, and why.


Fair usage and image copyrighting in the age of the internet is a complex and ever-changing expanse of updated and upgraded copyright laws designed to net the various thefts that can occur on a frontier like the World Wide Web.

It's more important now than ever before for webmasters, small business owners, and other online users to understand their present day rights with an eye for the overriding legislation that is quickly gaining momentum in the war against online infringement.

The Goalposts Have Moved

The old adage about images needing an explicit copyright notice has vanished, and as far as the current laws are concerned, the moment a private creation is invented it receives an instantaneous copyright that positions it legally to seek out and shut down anyone who fringes upon the automated systematization of copyright in the modern world.

Most of the famous copyright sayings, in fact, have become outdated by the quickening pace of legislation. People could once use images freely so long as they did not charge for the image, or construe any implicit profit from the image's use, but now the courts in most countries will accept damage lawsuits regardless of whether or not an offender made any profit.

Fair Use?

The fair use shield that internet users once wielded against potential copyright claims has been broken down and discarded; the fair use exemption applying only to necessities in news and commentary. This excludes the vast majority of personal blogs and websites that have been bandying about the claim under false impressions of protection from the infringement they are committing.

Copyright Legislation

This is an increasingly difficult problem for many webmasters, who need to rely on the internet's vast portfolio of images to fill their blog with aesthetically pleasing content but no longer have any leg to stand on when it comes to protecting themselves against infringing on the natural copyright allowed to the owners of those images.

In order to successfully maneuver these muddy waters, it's necessary to understand the workings of copyright, and how to circumvent them. The copyrights themselves are automatic upon the creation of any original work of authorship, so first and foremost webmasters must always assume that any image they find online is copyrighted.

Attribution and Creative Commons

Another misunderstood reaction to copyright has seen many bloggers and website owners linking back to the original content or author in an assumption that this acknowledgement frees them from infringement, but unfortunately, that's not accurate either; giving credit where credit is due is polite, but it does not give anyone license to display anything.

Photo websites like Photo8, Morgue File and Flickr do provide sections of legal fair use images that everybody can pick and choose from, and Creative Commons licenses are alternative solutions from the non-profit sector that can release copyright licenses to allow the owners of said content to reserve the right to dictate who can use their image, including waiving their copyrighted ownership for public usage.

Attributions are still few and far between for the majority of users and bloggers, necessitating some higher protocols for mainstream internet users to use when receiving express written or acknowledged permission from the author of the image before using that image under any circumstances.


Trademarks and recognizable © symbols for copyright are no longer indicative of protected content, and in an online frontier of excessive protections it's important for webmasters to play by the rules so they do not become the targets of an online take-down.

People should familiarize themselves with the actual definition of 'fair use' as it applies to the online world, the way in which they intend to use the image, whether or not the image has been altered from its original version, and make a final appraisal on the potential risks associated with the image usage.


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